The Brussels sprout is a cultivar of wild cabbage, first found, not in Belgium, but in the Netherlands in the 16th Century. In its first appearance by name in an English cookery book, Acton 1845, they are boiled for only 8 to 10 minutes.
See: Sprouts with Chestnuts, Sprout Soup
The cross-bottoming of sprouts
Many people detect an unpleasant smell when sprouts are overcooked, it is, of course, due to the 3-methylthiopropyl, 4-methylthiobutyl and allyl isothiocyanate released from the sprout core. All sprouts produce this, but not all people are capable of detecting it - a similar effect occurs with asparagus.
The practice of cutting a cross-shape in the base of each trimmed sprout before boiling is often said to have originated in a spell to 'keep the Devil out', but there is no evidence whatever that it improves the flavour or reduces cooking time, or, indeed, prevents the ingress of unwanted devils. We suspect that this tradition continues during the lengthy preparations for the Christmas Feast simply as a way of giving troublesome would-be cook's assistants something to do.
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